Death Penalty: Is It Justified?

zsfv-aerfMahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest leaders of Indian Nationalism who stood against the vindictive forces of British colonialism once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. His non-violent methods of protest and his peaceful expressions are still revered and valued because he was able to liberate India from the shackles of colonialism through his peaceful and persuasive methods. With the recent controversy surrounding the botched executions which took place in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma, the debate surrounding death penalty has renewed once again.  Is death penalty an effective and justified method for punishing a criminal? I believe death penalty is a cruel way  of punishing a fellow citizen; therefore its implementation should be replaced with the punishment of life in prison.

Following the previous failed executions, another prisoner named Michael Worthington, was scheduled to be executed via lethal injection on Wednesday August 6th, 2014 in Missouri. Worthington’s attorneys had pressed the Supreme Court to put off his execution, but the court and Missouri’s governor declined the request to block the execution. His offence included rape and murder of a college student in the year 1995. In 1998, twenty-six years old Worthington was sentenced to death. According to the news published in Huffington Post, Worthington pressed that a life prison sentence would have been more appropriate for him. He claimed that no one had ever heard from him in nineteen years. But on the other hand the 76 years old parents of the victim Mindy Griffin had long anticipated witnessing the death of their daughter’s murderer from almost two decades. I was surprised that a reasonably elderly couple carried such an extreme amount of bitterness in their hearts against the man who killed their daughter. So much hatred, that they wanted Worthington to know and visually see that they are present during his entire execution. However their  request to be present in the execution room was denied.  I understand that the parents of the victim wanted to experience a sense of catharsis but my question is, would all the hatred give them satisfaction and peace of mind?  It would certainly not bring their beloved daughter back.

The recounting events surrounding forty-three years old Worthington generated sympathetic feeling   in my heart for him. According to Yahoo news his attorney also argued that a life term would be more fitting, saying the man had abusive parents who got him addicted to drugs and made him steal.  On sixth August, with his execution, his eagerness towards his death or his skeptical wish to be put on life without–parole was dismissed forever. “I figure I’ll wake up in a better place tomorrow,” Worthington, said. “I’m just accepting of whatever’s going to happen because I have no choice”. With three failed execution in recent months, I believe that Worthington’s panic and stress over his execution was justified, after all he could have also been a victim of failed execution. On the other hand, if the legal system would have been uncomplicated enough to put criminals like Worthington in prison for their life, there would not be any issue of failed execution, plus the victim’s family and the criminal would not have to wait for decades long (as in the case of Worthington’s trial) for the death sentence to be completed.

Nick Gillespie, writing for The Daily Beast, says “As a libertarian, I’m not surprised that the state is so incompetent that it can’t even kill people efficiently, there’s no good way to kill a person, even if they are “unsympathetic”. I agree with Gillespie’s point of view, for the reason that putting a person to death painlessly via lethal injection or cruelly by hanging, serves the same purpose- getting even with the criminal; killing him for killing someone else.  One simply cannot deny that a person is purposely being deprived of his right to be alive. According to David R. Dow, writer in Politico Magazine, “firing squads, hanging, the electric chair and the gas chamber are “not the least bit subtle, when you shoot somebody, or hang him, you know you are killing him, with lethal injection, the process is clinical, dissociated.”

A recent  New York Times article stated that, after the  recent  botched executions in the United States, the debate over capital punishment has been rekindled — but now with a focus on the cost and effectiveness of the method used to carry it out rather than on its moral legitimacy. Personally, I opposed death penalty on the bases of morality and its ethical implication. However after reading this blog post, I came across a different perspective to disagree with this brutal practice.  According to the article, California’s death penalty expenditure over the last three decades, between 1980 and 2012, was $4 billion on carrying out capital punishment, while executing only 13 convicts. These figures further strengthen my views that death penalty should be altogether demolished. If a State can spend tax payer’s hard earned money for the purpose of conducting medical researches  about finding the right cocktail of drugs to kill a criminal, not only that, but also to keep the capital punishment facilities up and running, why cannot they support the preservation of a human life by enforcing life imprisonment? .A 2010 Duke University study found that taxpayers in the Tarheel State could save $11 million a year by substituting life in prison for the death penalty. Roughly 40 percent of California’s 748 death row inmates have served at least 19 years.  Either way the offender is being punished or State is spending money. The later way however, is not revenge based punishment, rather it gives the offender a chance to mull over his crime for the rest of his life, and it also eradicates the concept of botched executions. If I could chose form the two options, I would want my tax money to go towards the facilitation and development of the prisons, as the people that reside in those closed prison walls are also fellow citizens who deserve adequate support.  Citing Richard C. Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, Fox reported that studies have “uniformly and conservatively shown that a death-penalty trial costs $1 million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole.”

Marc Stern is an internal medicine physician who has run correctional health care operations and currently teaches and conducts research in correctional health care. In 2008 he was approached by the prison officials of the Washington State Department of Corrections, and was asked  if the healthcare professional that worked under Stern, could  produce the drugs for the lethal injections.  Stern could not approve of these orders, first because morally he felt that it is a wrong decision to contribute in the process of taking a citizen’s life. Secondly, he believed that it also violated his medical ethic. Physicians, nurses and other medical professionals are bound to do things in their patients’ best interests, to do no harm, to be guided in all this by the wishes of their patients, all of which are irreconcilable with participation in executions. However because the prison authorities refused to address his concern, he submitted his resignation. I believe that he chose to live by his principles instead of pleasing the governing authorities.  Stern’s point of view affirms that State involving doctors in the execution tends to violate their medical oath. This makes sense after all because would it be morally accurate to involve a doctor in execution of a person? The legal system give death sentence to a fellow citizen, and ask a physician to deprive him of his life; to me this concept is simply incongruous because a doctor’s responsibility is to give life not take it.

On the other hand the supporters of death penalty, including the victims’ families, evoke precisely an eye for an eye motivation when speaking of the unsuccessful executions. According to New York Times opinion article, after Mr. Wood’s three-hour-long execution in Arizona in April 2014, the victim’s family had no issue with the atrocious process.   Although in 2008, Supreme Court inferred that a state might violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment if it continually used a flawed method when alternative procedures were available that were less painful. I believe that the best alternative procedure would be a sentence of  life in prison, because physically it is non-damaging and most importantly it preserves a citizen’s right to live. Ethically, in my opinion death penalty signifies revenge based legal system which opposes the values of non-violence, peace and exoneration. More over the enforcement of death penalty has failed to prevent crimes. According to an article published by Forbes,  states which impose the death penalty continue to report the highest murder rates in the country with only three states without the death penalty ranked in the top twenty five (Michigan, New York and Alaska).

In a recent internet poll conducted by US news, when asked if the death penalty should be ruled unconstitutional, 66.25% people voted “yes”, while 33.75 voted “no” as an answer.  I was glad to see that majority of the American citizens are against death penalty, yet according to CNN, as of January 2014 there were 3,070 inmates still awaiting execution. I believe that taking a person’s life, also takeaway his chance to contemplate and regret his actions, above all his opportunity to improve his life is forever seized. In the year 2013, about one in ten countries carried out any executions at all and of those 22 execution nations only eight killed ten or more prisoners. Those eight are: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, USA, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The American citizens must decide if this  is the group of nations that the U.S. should want to belong to.  United States is the only Western country that has prisoners on death row. As a student of  Peace and Conflict resolution, I believe that the concept of death penalty resonate torment, antipathy and above all, it echoes lack of compassion. It is a medieval practice that does not suits the norms of an enlightened world. I hope that one day the remaining 32 States would join countries like Germany, Rwanda, Portugal and the other progressive nations that have abolished death penalty.

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2 Comments to “Death Penalty: Is It Justified?”

  1. I enjoyed your article a lot. It showed me a different perspective on the issue. Of course I don’t condone murder and I believe that murderers should be punished. But I do agree that the death sentence is the same as murder and revenge. We’re basically doing the same thing the murderer did, except in the form of an injection (unless that individual also killed via injection). Instead of the victim’s family doing the revengeful act, they let the law to do it for them, while they watch with hateful hearts, and to some extent, amusement. I also like your point on the cost of a criminal’s execution versus just leaving them in jail. I believe in people changing for the better, of course that’s really up to the individual. But jail time will allow them to reflect more on themselves. And I also agree that using doctors to perform the execution contradicts their purpose, which is to save lives not take them away. This goes well with that last image that you have: “Why do we kill people who kill people to show killing people is wrong?”

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